Debt Relief

By Serkan ArslanalpPeter Blair Henry
2006| Working Paper No. 1931

The G-8 Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) is the next step of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). There are two reasons why the MDRI is unlikely to help poor countries. First, the amount of money at stake is trivial. The roughly $2 billion of annual debt payments to be relieved under MDRI amounts to roughly 0.01 percent of the GDP of the OECD countriesa mere one-seventieth (1/70) of the quantity of official development assistance agreed to by world leaders on at least three separate occasions (1970, 1992, 2002). Second, the existence of debt overhang is a necessary condition for debt relief to generate economic gains. Since the world’s poorest countries do not suffer from debt overhang, debt relief is unlikely to stimulate their investment and growth. The principal obstacle to investment and growth in the worlds poorest countries is the fundamental inadequacy in these countries of the basic institutions that provide the foundation for profitable economic activity. In light of these facts, the MDRI may amount to a Pyrrhic victory: A symbolic win for advocates of debt relief that clears the conscience of the rich countries but leaves the real problems of the poor countries unaddressed.

debt relief
highly indebted poor countries
multilateral debt restructuring initiative
international economics
international finance
economic policy
economic development